When the fur goes flying

Gregory Pop­ovich will bring his pet theat­er of trained res­cue an­im­als to the Keswick Theatre for two shows, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., on Sunday, Feb. 17.

If you’re look­ing for a little out-of-the-or­din­ary fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment you will find it when Gregory Pop­ovich and his ad­or­able res­cued pets from an­im­al shel­ters take cen­ter stage for two shows at the Keswick Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 17.

His show, called the Com­edy & Pet Theatre, fea­tures an­im­al tricks and jug­gling and ac­ro­bat­ics along with lots of plain clown­ing round, said Pop­ovich, who de­veloped his per­form­ing tal­ents at the famed Mo­scow Cir­cus School.

“Ac­tu­ally, I rep­res­ent four gen­er­a­tions of Rus­si­an cir­cus per­formers,” Pop­ovich said. “My moth­er worked with dogs, so I grew up with them and even helped my moth­er train them. For me, it was not a job but a life­style work­ing with pets.”

Jug­gling was his primary form of cir­cus en­ter­tain­ment when he star­ted out. He went on to be­come an award-win­ning star of the Mo­scow Cir­cus and a World Cham­pi­on jug­gler. Pop­ovich came to the United States in 1991 at the in­vit­a­tion of Ringling Broth­ers & Barnum and Bailey Cir­cus.

“It was then I star­ted work­ing on my own show,” he re­called, “be­gin­ning with just one kitty and one dog. It was easy to make the trans­ition be­cause I try to do clown­ing, and am in­to phys­ic­al com­edy, as well. So that was my break from clas­sic­al jug­gling to trained pets.”

His pets now per­form many tricks — from jug­gling to ac­ro­bat­ics to fly­ing through the air. Today, Pop­ovich’s shel­ter stars have grown from one cat and one dog, to eight dogs and 14 cats.

“Yes,” he said with a smile, “we have a really big fam­ily now.”

Com­ing from Rus­sia, Pop­ovich was un­aware that an­im­al shel­ters ex­is­ted. “We don’t have such a thing in my coun­try. But when I came to this coun­try and star­ted look­ing around for pets to train, some of my Amer­ic­an friends asked why I did not vis­it a shel­ter to find them. That was pretty ex­cit­ing for me.

“But then I found out how some of these pets came to these shel­ters and I began to un­der­stand that many people don’t real­ize how re­spons­ible they should be for their pets, what be­ing a mas­ter of pets means.

“Per­haps they get a pet for a boy or a girl,” he con­tin­ued. “They buy a puppy and later real­ize someone has to walk it, or they make trouble, so they send it back to the shel­ter. Or they move from an old apart­ment to a new one. There are many reas­ons but some aren’t very good ones, es­pe­cially when people use pets simply as part of the fur­niture or as a toy.

“That’s my mes­sage dur­ing my show. I try to tell the audi­ence to see pets as hav­ing their own per­son­al­it­ies and feel­ings, and that we should re­spect them all.”

When it comes to se­lect­ing an­im­als for the show, Pop­ovich prac­tices what he preaches: ”Just like any an­im­al, every pet has a spe­cial quirky little thing they like to do to show unique parts of their per­son­al­ity to their own­ers. This is what makes them who they are. I take ad­vant­age of this and try to de­vel­op the nat­ur­al traits of each an­im­al ac­cord­ing to what they already like to do best. I nev­er do any­thing against the nature of the an­im­al, against his tem­pera­ment. And, of course, I give them lots of love.”

After the show, Pop­ovich, ac­com­pan­ied by some of his pets, will meet and greet audi­ence mem­bers in the theat­er’s lobby.

“For me,” he said, “that’s one of the best parts of what I do. I bring out some of the an­im­als so the chil­dren and the adults can pet them and, hope­fully, real­ize they are liv­ing, breath­ing things that need a lot of care and a lot of love.” ••

For times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-572-7650.

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